Developer wants to traverse St. Johns River by sky gondolas

Developer wants to traverse St. Johns River by sky gondolas
With a background of towers, including his San Marco Place (center building with red roof), Michael Balanky stands atop the Kings Avenue Garage near property he hopes to develop.

The Southbank is no stranger to property developer Michael Balanky, one of whose projects includes the San Marco Place condominium tower on Riverplace Boulevard.

Now Balanky is envisioning a 28-story high-rise of residential, office and retail on the Southbank near the Kings Avenue Skyway Station. But what sets this project apart is the gondola stretching across the St. Johns River to the Northbank.

Balanky, CEO of Chase Properties, is calling the $80 million project Kings Avenue Station Phase II, to be built on an acre of land adjacent to the Jacksonville Transportation Authority’s Kings Avenue Garage. It would have 300 residential units of about 900 square feet each. In addition, he would lease 825 parking spaces in the city-owned garage.

The gondola, which Balanky has named the Jag-Wire, would connect the Southbank to the proposed convention center on the old city hall/courthouse property and from there to the Sports Complex.

He thinks it would be an iconic addition to downtown redevelopment that would help link the Northbank and Southbank and give both residents and tourists another transportation option.

Rendering of a proposed mixed-use tower on the Southbank to be developed by Chase Properties

Rendering of a proposed mixed-use tower on the Southbank to be developed by Chase Properties

Balanky wants to put the gondola on city property between Broadcast Place and Montana Avenue adjacent to The District, a development proposed for the Southbank. While the city-owned site has contamination issues, Balanky said the gondola station would require less remediation than other projects.

But the project hinges on the resolution of a long dispute with the Jacksonville Transportation Authority over the use of the land.

In 2005, as Kings Avenue Redevelopment LLC (KAR), Balanky signed a 70-year lease with JTA to develop property near its Kings Avenue Garage and the Skyway Express station.

The first phase was the construction in 2007 of the $30 million Hilton Garden Inn/Homewood Suites at 1201 Kings Ave.

For the second phase, Balanky wanted to build a mixed-use building that would include apartments, and which would require rezoning the land and amending the lease to allow for residential. But Balanky said JTA asked him to delay the project and donate a portion of the land to the state for the Overland Bridge project in exchange for having the property rezoned and the lease amended to allow residential.

The property was rezoned but the lease was never amended and Balanky sued JTA and FDOT in state court in April 2014.

JTA declined to comment for the story but Balanky said JTA said it had second thoughts about amending the lease because it might need the land for future JTA projects. JTA is currently in the midst of a project to upgrade and expand the Skyway system.

But in a Jan. 2, 2018 letter, JTA CEO Nathaniel Ford said KAR breached the lease by failing to complete the second phase of the project and failing to make lease payments since 2009. Balanky said the company has escrowed $740,000 for the lease with the court.

Now that the Overland Bridge project is almost complete, and with the price of construction materials on the rise, due in part to the new tariffs on metals, Balanky said he wants to get the suit resolved so he can proceed with the project.

He said he is willing to double the amount he is paying JTA to get the lease amended to allow residential.

“This will be good for JTA,” Balanky said. “It will give them a bigger return. It will be good for the Skyway and the garage. This project has languished for years. We just want this thing resolved before the pricing makes it impossible.”

By Lilla Ross
Resident Community News

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